A Mile Out The Door: A Mixtape

As a graduating senior (Which is just weeks away), I wanted to focus my playlist on the idea of Home. As I began to listen to songs, I thought I could go more in depth with the experience of leaving home and the after effects that it might have. I decided after listening that i wanted to make a mixtape that chronicle the journey and emotions of someone leaving home for the first time. I focused my mix into three different parts; moving, photographs, and returning.  The first part focuses on the act of leaving home, especially for someone moving to a new place. The second part focuses on waiting portraits or looking a photographs on what home looks like. The third part is about coming back to home after a long absence. For me, a lot of these songs relate to my current life status. Enjoy

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Part 1: The Move

Mipso – “A Couple Acres Greener”

In my opinion the first song on this mix is not particularly a bluegrass song. Instrumentally it has it’s roots in the genre with a chorus that has a nice banjo run. The album title is called Dark Holler Pop which I think may be a fitting classification for this genre. I think this song may be representative of almost every 22 year old nearing their graduation date. It’s a point in our lives where we are all very tired of school and adolescence, but we are not yet ready to think entirely conservative as far as saving capital. I think that’s why most of us leave home in the first place. We have a small draft of what we think our own personal story is and we feel that it is our right to act on it no matter what others think. I think our forefathers called it the pursuit of happiness.

J.D. Crowe & The New South – “My Home Ain’t in the Hall of Fame”

While this song may be seen as possibly staying at home, I think this song represents a departure from the status quo. The steel guitar and the dobro steal the instrumentality of this song and makes the listener have some feeling of nostalgia. It’s about a man that keeps on moving on through the world, but not in that city-boy way.

Newgrass Revival – “Lonesome and a Long Way Home”

This is one of the major turning points in my mixtape which foreshadows the rest of the selections. Driving gives us a lot of time to think, and I think this song (Which has been done by serval people) is the narrater regretting his decision to leave home. The music makes you furrow your eyebrows and feel the loneliness in the instrumentality. This song is definetly something to listen to on the road.

Part 2: Looking at a Photograph

Butch Robbins – “Blue Ridge Cabin Home”

We all have these tiny time machines we travel in. We call them photographs and I think songs can act as photographs. When we listen to music from our high school days we think of first dates, driving our car for the first time, and having fun with our childhood friends. Similarly, this section is meant to paint a picture. Butch Robbins does a great job of covering this old standard. I think for those of us that grew up in the mountains we did a lot of wondering through the words and up mountains. We all had little hideouts out in the yard (Which is bigger than most people would think). It’s interesting to go back to these spots and remember our childhood fun. They seem much smaller than we imagine, but they always hold a fond place in our heart.

Hazel Dickens – “West Virginia, My Home”

It’s hard to do a mixtape detailing nostalgia for home without including any Hazel Dickens. In fact, this mix features two songs by Hazel. The first thing that really strikes you when you listen to this song is Hazel’s wailing voice as it calls to you from some place in your past. I think that as we grow older a portion of ourselves wishes we could go back to our adolescent years. I like how Hazel says we pay a price for leaving our home. We can never truly go back to home the way it was. It will always be different and changing with the times simply because everyone grows older.

Jimmy Martin – “Tennessee”

This is one of the more cheerful songs on this mix. This song touches briefly touches on some of the rituals the home might have and describes home as sort of a promised land.

Old Crow Medicine Show – “Carry Me Back to Virginia”

While this is probably closer to old time, I think this paints one of the best pictures of a scene from home. The verb usage (Marched, sang, fire, raced, affix the bayonet) and the tale of war or rebellion. This is clearly a person who liked to cause trouble (I would imagine something like dukes of hazard). Civil war history is one of the uniting characteristics of the south. Some soldiers believed that the fight was to protect their homeland. The narrator goes on to list all of the stuff he’s done in the war to protect his home and now he wants to go home.

Hazel Dickens – “Hills of Home”

This is a song that hit home for me. When your economy is surrounded by a mobile industry, towns spring up and die quickly. This made me think of Southern West Virginia and it’s encompassing towns, particularly the old coal mining towns. My dad took me back to his hometown outside of Welch, WV to show me around. It was sad to hear that most of our relatives have left and moved far away, mainly for work. While there still are positive initiatives going on in southern West Virginia, this song really pulls at the root of the issue. When everyone in the town has moved away is it still a town? is it still a home? It’s hard to tell.

Ralph Stanley – “Old Home Place”

The first moment i heard this song i imagined myself sitting on a rocking chair reminiscing. It is then confirmed about 40 seconds then that he too sits on the porch thinking about home. I think this is more of a lullaby and is a great end to this section.

Part 3: Returning

Steve Martin & Edie Brickell -“When You Get To Asheville”

This song is what inspired the playlist. Written from the prospective of mother, sister, girlfriend, this really brought a tear to my eye thinking about the current status of my life. There will be a lot of things I’m leaving behind. We sometimes don’t have the perspective to think from the viewpoint of the ones we leave behind, but this song conveys that point. If we do leave, we generally leave to seek better opportunities in our lives. It is especially sad to think about the dog (Dodie) and how leaving home has severally changed her behavior. The lesson learned in this song is that we can always come home. It may not be the same physical location, but it will always have our family.

Trampled by Turtles – “Come Back Home”

This song is of the same theme as the last one, but much happier. I my take on the viewpoint is that the narrator has moved away and he misses his significant other. He says that he or she should come back home to him. This is somewhat of geographically backwards statement, but he defines home as being with his other. His epiphany or “Waking up” lead him to this conclusion.

New Grass Revival – “Fly Through the Country”

To send this mix off I wanted to focus on another driving song by New Grass Revival. The narrorater is tired of living in his dirty town where there’s nothing to do and he’s ready to return to the country. Generally the cities you move to are not representative of your home place and the things you use to do their. He’s ready to return to that life, at least for a little while. I’d imagine once i’m tired of city life I too would fly through the country.

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Learning To Play Mandolin

Since taking this course, one of my goals has been to gain some background about the history and the artists of bluegrass in order to play the mandolin. I wanted to make a post to give some of the resources I have used and am using in order to progress my proficiency  at playing the mandolin

I started with videos from freeguitarvideos.com. These videos take the process step by step teaching how to pluck, hold your fingers,  and storm. They eventually move onto different chords and a few scales just to get you started. I’ve posted the first link to the series below

I don’t think that you need to watch the full series of these videos to be able to play efficiently. The next step I’m taking is learning how to play songs through video lessons. I usually have to retch them 3 or 4 times in order to get the full song down. I’ve posted an example of the types of lesson below

With any instrument practice makes perfect and some would say perfect practice makes perfect. It will be a few years down the line before i’m where i’d like to be with my mandolin skills. I’m thinking of closing out this blog with maybe a recording of something that I have played. Here’s to hoping one day I’ll be as good as the link below

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Thinking on Floyd Fest 2013

The summer before last I had made up my mind to go to a Festival for the full length of time. I had gotten one day passes to bonaroo in the years before, but i decided to follow that instinct of Carpe Diem and go to FloydFest 2013. I had bought my tickets back in February for the event and waited for July to come around. Me and my girlfriend Selena Bennett went ahead and got a good amount of food supplies, mostly in cans.

The drive from floyd to Blacksburg was pretty short and I was really pumped to be there

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Getting into the event was the hard part. We sat in the first line for four hours waiting for a truck to come by and pick up our camping supplies. Once the truck had come we began our walk up the hill hoping to hop immediately into the bus that would take us there. WRONG! Another line that lasted about 3 hours had to be waited through. We were very happy we packed peanuts bags and water or else we would have been “Hangry”. Finally we get to the event and lug our camping supplies down the mountain. We find a nice camping spot in a little clearing. The eagle is for added effect.

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We were very happy to sit down and eat and look at all of the awesome artwork before the concert

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I could tell we were in the right place when I saw this hilarious sign

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Some of my favorite band from the concert were

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From Left to Right: The Lumineers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Megan Jean and the KFB, Bronze Radio Return, The Hackensaw Boys, Gogol Bordello

It was interesting to see this mixture of Bluegrass, Folk, and Americana come into play through the different concert, but the fans were the most interesting. The festival culture really took over the whole audience and made every single dealing (except for the one time some drunk guy peed on me) extremely pleasant and supportive. You would have a 65 year clean cut man smoke something (probably illegal) and then pass it to the 20 year old hippy right beside him. The dancing was so different from what I was use to consisting of old time stomping all the way to what i like to call “The Elegant Octopus”. It was extremely educational to go on this adventure to see why people love to go fans and musicians alike.

 

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Which is better? The Home-place or the Destination?

What would bluegrass be without the home-place? Most of the basis for bluegrass music comes from Old Time Music which originated mainly away from the metropolitan areas and in large part Appalachia. Most bluegrass artists were born and raised within a small town and in large part reference the cultural aspects that Appalachia has come to be famous for. For example Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs are both from Kentucky and are largely recognized as two of the greats from the genre. But what if this home-place never existed? Would Bluegrass even be around? I would argue that it would be highly unlikely for something like bluegrass to be around. It is considered a blend of many different musical cultures and the most blended rural cultural region in America is Appalachia. It seems to me that around 30-40% of bluegrass songs mention home and how they miss it or want to go back. Therefore the basis for most bluegrass songs may not even exist if Appalachia never existed.

My second question is would bluegrass be the same without cities? Popularity for bluegrass in big cities has grown ever since the 1950s. I think that living in the city makes you starved for areas that have natural beauty or some rustic qualities that remind them of the stereotypical home-place. If cities didn’t exist, I don’t think bluegrass would have played the same pivotal role in folk music evolution. Nationwide recognition would not have happened if bluegrass had not reached New York, DC, or Los Angeles. Artists would go to these areas generally seeking a better economic turnout. Their songs may have also differed if they had never left the home-place to begin with. I think that the journey bluegrass artists generally take from the small rural area to the big cities give them the experimental material to write bluegrass songs. Therefore the home-place and the big cities are equal and have symbiotic relationship when it comes to bluegrass. I’ve included a song by Tony Rice called Old Home Place

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Hazel Dickens

Hazel Dickens was born in Montcalm WV which is down the street from where I am in Bluefield. She learned about music from her father who operated vehicles for the mining company. In the early 1950s at the age of 19 She moved to Baltimore MD and met the younger brother of Pete Seeger, founding member of the Lost City Ramblers. There she found a home in the bluegrass scene there playing often with Mike Seeger. While active in many bands during the 50s and 60s she eventually met up with Mike Seeger’s wife, Alice Gerrard. They began to sing and record together while drawing on themes from feminism. “There did seem to be a large space there that women like me and other women that were coming along could fill,” Dickens said. “And that was to give other women that didn’t want to sing the old traditional songs — to give them something that they could identify with and something that they could sing. I’ve had many women tell me that I was the only woman who came along that was writing songs that they could sing within the tradition.” In 1973 she began her solo career playing many bluegrass songs as well as protest songs from the coal mining lifestyle she grew up in. Hazel also made a guestt appearance in the 1980s movie Matewan. She died in 2011 due to pneumonia in Washington DC. She was a pioneer of bluegrass and a political activist for miners and women.

Here is Hazel preforming Black Lung. She also gives a little intro about the coal mining community growing up. Very thoughtful.

 

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The Relevancy of the Radio

The article Hillbilly Music by Robert Cranwell, special attention is drawn to the radio. A lot of the pioneers and major bluegrass bands were able to make their music popular by playing it on the radio. The radio was able to reach across the corners of the globe and even attracted attention from people within urban environments by giving them a glimpse of their rural homeplace. However these examples are from the mid 2oth century, so what is the place for radio in the 21st century? and how are start up bands getting the word out about their music today?

I personally enjoy listening to radio during the morning for the talk shows. I particularly like Danny and Zach in the Morning on our local K92.3 out of Roanoke Virginia. In terms of music, most popular radio stations play music that is in the top of the charts for pop music. These are the radio stations that have the broadest coverage as far as FM/AM radio goes. Bluegrass, roots, old time, folk, and various other musics are just not well represented on these popular stations. Types of music like bluegrass are played on radio stations dedicated to a certain sound, but they generally do not have the kind of reach that the pop music ones do. However there are programs still going on and innovations still being made to bring different types of music to people all over the globe. When i think of bluegrass in terms of radio,  I think back to my childhood listening to A Prairie Home Companion with my mother. My favorite segment was the comical detective narrative for P.I. Guy Noir. Growing up i never liked Country music and neither did my parents who were musicians, but they always loved the artists that would come on the program. I think there is a certain musicality that came along with that program. It was broadcast all over the world and was able to showcase both urban and rural culture in just a few hours. I could focus on the overall effects of the business of satellite radio, but i just love this show too much to not showcase how radio is still relevant and loved today.

Here’s a video of a Guy Noir Script from 2009

Here is a video of Hot Rize preforming Colleen Malone on 09/20/2014

Here is an upcoming show of the Prairie Home Companion featuring Chris Thile coming on this Valentines Day! It will be live in about 4 days.

As far as how new bands are able to garner support and spread their music and their message, the internet is the most common way of doing that now. With the start up of mp3 players came the release of sites like Napster, iTunes, and other music media sights. However, for start up bands it’s a lot harder for them to find new fans outside of their homeless due to the lack of radio coverage for underground artists. Music communities have created sites like bandcamp.com and soundcloud.com. Even social media such as Facebook and twitter attribute to musical popularity. I think that social media is becoming the medium that radio was back in the mid 20th century. Local news is being posted and culture is being created. The only downside is the mess that social media creates. It may take longer to discover a new group or find a new story due to the amount of stuff being posted.

Here is an example of a folk band I just found on bandcamp.com called Shakey Graves and a video of them playing Dearly Departed at SXSW

https://shakeygraves.bandcamp.com/album/the-state-of-texas-vs-alejandro-rose-garcia-ep

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Looking Back Briefly at Benton Flippen

Benton Flippen made a career out of fiddling for many prominent old time bands in America. Benton, born and raised in North Carolina, gained his art by learning from close family relatives. He played the fiddle different from anyone during his long career spanning from the early 20th century all the way up to the later part of the last decade. Benton had large hands, which made it quite hard to grip the instrument like his peers, so he made some adjustments. Benton discovered the that best way for him to get around the neck was to slide his index and middle fingers, rather than fingering up and down the scale with all four fingers. This allowed him a very unique sound in comparison. To quote Paul Brown on Benton’s sound “It cries the blues, shouts a spiritual message, resounds with the celebration of a square dance or house party. It’s full of syncopation and stretch, yet solidly down-to-earth” He also played the banjo with only two fingers.

Here’s a video on his fiddle style

Benton was highly accomplished and has won many fiddlers conventions all over the Appalachian mountains. He hand played with bands such as The Green Valley Boys, Camp Creek Boys, and the Smokey Valley Boys  He has played for the Smithsonian Institution, The Worlds Fair, The Library of Congress, and many other famous venues. He ended up being one of the last performers from the early 20th century to still be playing music up until his death in 2011.

Here’s a song called Susananah Gal, by Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys 

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Definition of Bluegrass

The definition of bluegrass is loosely defined as two things. One is a bluish-green grass that was introduced into North America from northern Europe. It is widely grown for fodder, especially in Kentucky and Virginia. The other is a kind of country music influenced by jazz and blues and characterized by virtuosic playing of banjos and guitars and high-pitched, close-harmony vocals. Do either of these definitions really explain what Bluegrass is? I probably not the first one, but the second one may have scratched the surface. As far as musical combinations, I would say that it is a mixture of old time music and blues. The melodies and harmonies resemble old time, a lot of the solos and breaks resemble blues music. Bluegrass typically has around 5 instruments in the band: banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass.

“Bluegrass music is an art form. To me art is a human contrivance that stimulates the human intellect. What proves it to be what it is, is nothing but time. That same Mona Lisa that captured peoples attention three or four hundred years ago is doing it today. And the tunes and the melodies of Stephen Foster are still being sung today. Time proves it to be what it is.” -Butch Robbins

Bluegrass has stood the test of time and has established itself as an art form. Just like many other kinds of musics coming from the south eastern US such as jazz, blues, rock and roll, and country. It is amazing to think that the larger part of music that we listened to today was invented in this same reason due to a mixture of english, celtic, french, and african american cultures.

So what is bluegrass? I think that bluegrass is a clash of different art forms particularly over the Appalachian region. It was a developing and now developed art form that is deeply entrenched in Appalachian tradition.

  • Quote from Butch Robbins came from and interview my good friend Bud Bennett conducted with him last year. He made a 5 part documentary out of the interview called Bluegrass Music, It’s Origin and Development as a Unique and Creative Art Form.
     http://vimeo.com/111778495
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